The introduction of new legislation in Queensland on 1 January 2012, has brought many changes to the way work health and safety laws operate in Queensland. The new legislation, the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) (the Act) replaces the Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995 (Qld). The implementation of the new legislation has seen significant changes.

The Act has been effective for almost four months and businesses are at the stage of trying to adjust and comply with the new Act and its complimentary legislation. As is the “theme” of the revised work health and safety regime, businesses must be proactive in addressing work health and safety and must take assertive action to ensure policies, practices and procedures reflect the new Act.

WHS Act

There have been numerous changes in work health and safety laws with the introduction of the Act. The most substantial changes are:

  • The concept of PCBU, that is “persons conducting a business or undertaking” is not new, however changes in definitions have now extended the duty of care from “employers to employees” to “PCBUs to workers”
  • The definition of worker previously excluded contractors and sub-contractors. The new definition includes them; 
  • Officers and senior managers now have a positive duty of due diligence; and 
  • Removal of the reverse onus of proof. It is now up to regulators to establish there was no due diligence.

WHS Regulations

The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (Qld) (the Regulation) is not dramatically different from the previous regulations in effect in Queensland. Despite there being little dramatic differences, there are new obligations that businesses are required to meet.

The Regulations cover a range of matters, generally and specifically applicable to various workplaces, including:  

  • Representation and participation;
  • Managing risks to health and safety and general work place management;
  • Hazardous work and hazardous manual tasks;
  • Plant and structures;
  • Hazardous chemicals;
  • Asbestos;
  • Major hazard facilities;
  • Mines; and
  • Review of decisions, exemptions, and prescribed serious illnesses.

The Regulation provides direction for persons conducting a business or undertaking, workers and worker representatives in enacting the duties and obligations set out in the Act.

Codes of Practice

Codes of Practice provide guidance on how to meet the standards set out in the Act and Regulations in respect of usual workplace situations. The Codes of Practice are admissible in court as evidence, as a failure to achieve the standards set out in the Codes of Practice may show failure to discharge duties under the Act.

However, failure to comply with Codes of Practice is not of itself an offence and will not lead to prosecution.

Codes of Practice are essentially “best practice” guidelines for all workplaces to strive to achieve or emulate. As such duty holders can chose other ways to achieve compliance with the Act and Regulations.  

These Codes of Practice are:

  • How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks;
  • Managing the Work Environment and Facilities;
  • Work Health and Safety Consultation, Co-operation and Co-ordination;
  • Managing Noise and Preventing Hearing Loss;
  • Hazardous Manual Tasks;
  • Confined Spaces;
  • Managing the Risk of Falls at Workplaces;
  • Preparation of Safety Data Sheets for Hazardous Chemicals;
  • Labeling of Workplace Hazardous Chemicals;
  • How to Manage and Control Asbestos in the Workplace; and
  • How to Safely Remove Asbestos.  

Model Codes of Practice have been prepared by Safe Work Australia and have been approved for application in Queensland; that is, the Codes of Practice effective under the old legislation have now been revised and update to reflect the standards required by the new work health and safety standards, encapsulated in Queensland by the Act and Regulation.

Conclusion

Significant attention has been paid to the Act and the changes it represents for businesses in Queensland. However, changes under the Act have a consequent effect on the content, scope and application of the Regulations and Codes of Practice. Therefore, it is vital that businesses are aware, and familiarize themselves with, the full extent of the work health and safety changes in Queensland; the Act, the Regulations and the Codes of Practice.